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Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream

Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream

Lightweight gel moisturizer for oily skin and normal skin smoothes on fresh hydration.
Uploaded by: melbel819 on

Kiehl’s Ultra Facial Oil-Free Gel Cream
Ingredients explained

Also-called: Aqua;Water | What-it-does: solvent

Good old water, aka H2O. The most common skincare ingredient of all. You can usually find it right in the very first spot of the ingredient list, meaning it’s the biggest thing out of all the stuff that makes up the product. 

It’s mainly a solvent for ingredients that do not like to dissolve in oils but rather in water. 

Once inside the skin, it hydrates, but not from the outside - putting pure water on the skin (hello long baths!) is drying. 

One more thing: the water used in cosmetics is purified and deionized (it means that almost all of the mineral ions inside it is removed). Like this, the products can stay more stable over time. 

Also-called: Zemea | What-it-does: solvent, moisturizer/humectant

Propanediol is a natural alternative for the often used and often bad-mouthed propylene glycol. It's produced sustainably from corn sugar and it's Ecocert approved. 

It's quite a multi-tasker: can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. 

Glycerin - superstar
Also-called: Glycerol | What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • A natural moisturizer that’s also in our skin
  • A super common, safe, effective and cheap molecule used for more than 50 years
  • Not only a simple moisturizer but knows much more: keeps the skin lipids between our skin cells in a healthy (liquid crystal) state, protects against irritation, helps to restore barrier
  • Effective from as low as 3% with even more benefits at higher concentrations up to 20-40% (around 10% is a good usability-effectiveness sweet spot)
  • High-glycerin moisturizers are awesome for treating severely dry skin
Read all the geeky details about Glycerin here >>

  • It's a super common and super debated skincare ingredient
  • It has several benefits: great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent and antimicrobial
  • It can be very drying if it's in the first few ingredients on an ingredient list
  • Some experts even think that regular exposure to alcohol damages skin barrier and causes inflammation though it's a debated opinion (read more in geeky details tab)
Read all the geeky details about Alcohol Denat. here >>

What-it-does: emollient

An emollient ester with a rich and creamy but non-greasy skin feel. It makes skin supple and protects dry skin. 

There is not much info about this guy in itself other than it helps to thicken up products and stabilize oil-in-water emulsions. It usually comes to the formula as part of some thickener complex. For example, coupled with isohexadecane and polysorbate 80, the trio forms an instant gel upon mixing with water. 

What-it-does: preservative

It’s pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, but even more importantly, it’s not a feared-by-everyone-mostly-without-scientific-reason paraben.

It’s not something new: it was introduced around 1950 and today it can be used up to 1% worldwide. It can be found in nature - in green tea - but the version used in cosmetics is synthetic. 

Other than having a good safety profile and being quite gentle to the skin it has some other advantages too. It can be used in many types of formulations as it has great thermal stability (can be heated up to 85°C) and works on a wide range of pH levels (ph 3-10). 

It’s often used together with ethylhexylglycerin as it nicely improves the preservative activity of phenoxyethanol.

What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant, solvent, viscosity controlling | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0
  • It's a helper ingredient that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products
  • It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer
  • It has a bad reputation among natural cosmetics advocates but cosmetic scientists and toxicology experts do not agree (read more in the geeky details section)
Read all the geeky details about Propylene Glycol here >>

Also-called: Cogon Grass Root Extract, Japanese Bloodgrass Root Extract | What-it-does: moisturizer/humectant

A subtropical plant that thrives in flooded environments and is claimed to give excellent long-term moisturizing effects. Its hydrating ability is due to the chemical composition of the rhizomes that contain natural osmoprotective compounds such as 3-dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), potassium, starches, and sugars. 

Osmoprotective compounds are interesting, skincare-wise, as they are thought to be able to increase intracellular osmosis, meaning water is drawn into the skin cells. According to the efficacy data from the manufacturer, 2% of ABS Imperata Cylindrica Extract (the trade name of the diluted version of the root extract) is able to increase the level of skin moisturization by almost 45%, which is 88% more effective than the untreated control. 

This all sounds great, however, in terms of comparative effectiveness, Imperata Cylindrica came up somewhat short in the study published in the Journal of cosmetic dermatology. They compared four hydrogels with different moisturizer actives and although all the formulas did hydrate the skin, the one with Imperata Cylindrica extract performed less well than the same formula with urea or sugar-based hydrating trio, called Aquaxyl

Still, it is a skin goodie with nice moisturizing properties, so if you are after skin hydration, it is a good one to spot on the INCI list. 

A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. It's often combined with IT-preservative, phenoxyethanol.

What-it-does: skin-identical ingredient, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

It’s the - sodium form - cousin of the famous NMFhyaluronic acid (HA). If HA does not tell you anything we have a super detailed, geeky explanation about it here.  The TL; DR version of HA is that it's a huge polymer (big molecule from repeated subunits) found in the skin that acts as a sponge helping the skin to hold onto water, being plump and elastic. HA is famous for its crazy water holding capacity as it can bind up to 1000 times its own weight in water.

As far as skincare goes, sodium hyaluronate and hyaluronic acid are pretty much the same and the two names are used interchangeably. As cosmetic chemist kindofstephen writes on reddit  "sodium hyaluronate disassociates into hyaluronic acid molecule and a sodium atom in solution". 

In spite of this, if you search for "hyaluronic acid vs sodium hyaluronate" you will find on multiple places that sodium hyaluronate is smaller and can penetrate the skin better. Chemically, this is definitely not true, as the two forms are almost the same, both are polymers and the subunits can be repeated in both forms as much as you like. (We also checked Prospector for sodium hyaluronate versions actually used in cosmetic products and found that the most common molecular weight was 1.5-1.8 million Da that absolutely counts as high molecular weight).

What seems to be a true difference, though, is that the salt form is more stable, easier to formulate and cheaper so it pops up more often on the ingredient lists. 

If you wanna become a real HA-and-the-skin expert you can read way more about the topic at hyaluronic acid (including penetration-questions, differences between high and low molecular weight versions and a bunch of references to scientific literature).

A biotechnologically derived ingredient that is produced by the fermentation of a marine bacteria living in the cold Antarctic Ocean. According to the manufacturer's info, it seems to have two different sets of magic properties: 

The first set includes skin-protecting and anti-aging abilities: it can help to protect the skin from dryness and redness due to cold weather and it also promotes skin regeneration and smoother skin surface by stimulating protein synthesis in the skin.  More specifically, these proteins are type I and IV collagen and elastin, all super important stuff for wrinkle-free, young looking skin (though these results came only from in-vitro tests and might or might not apply to living human skin). 

As for in-vivo (tested on real people) efficacy, 1% Antarcticine (the trade name for the diluted version of the Pseudoalteromonas Ferment Extract) cream increased skin hydration by 14.8% in cold weather and 5% Antarcticine cream decreased the depth of wrinkles by 44% around the eyes.

The second set of magic properties are all about oily skin regulation, such as reducing sebum production, shininess, and pore size. It acts through reducing Melanocortin 5 receptor, a protein important in sebum production. According to the in-vivo tests of the manufacturer, it both immediately reduces skin gloss as well as significantly reduces the number of active follicles and their total surface with ongoing use (by 9.5% and 27.2% after 28 days).

Overall, an interesting, multifunctional ingredient both for anti-aging as well as oily skin control purposes.

What-it-does: emollient

We don't have description for this ingredient yet.

Panthenol - goodie
Also-called: Pro-Vitamin B5 | What-it-does: soothing, moisturizer/humectant | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 0

An easy-to-formulate, commonly used, nice to have ingredient that’s also called pro-vitamin B5. As you might guess from the “pro” part, it’s a precursor to vitamin B5 (whose fancy name is pantothenic acid). 

Its main job in skincare products is to moisturise the skin. It’s a humectant meaning that it can help the skin to attract water and then hold onto it. There is also research showing that panthenol can help our skin to produce more lovely lipids that are important for a strong and healthy skin barrier. 

Another great thing about panthenol is that it has anti-inflammatory and skin protecting abilities. A study shows that it can reduce the irritation caused by less-nice other ingredients (e.g. fragrance, preservatives or chemical sunscreens) in the product.

Research also shows that it might be useful for wound healing as it promotes fibroblast (nice type of cells in our skin that produce skin-firming collagen) proliferation. 

If that wasn’t enough panthenol is also useful in nail and hair care products. A study shows that a nail treatment liquide with 2% panthenol could effectively get into the nail and significantly increase the hydration of it.

As for the hair the hydration effect is also true there. Panthenol might make your hair softer, more elastic and helps to comb your hair more easily. 

It’s a handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel. At the same time, it also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives, such as the nowadays super commonly used phenoxyethanol

The blend of these two (caprylyl glycol + phenoxyethanol) is called Optiphen, which not only helps to keep your cosmetics free from nasty things for a long time but also gives a good feel to the finished product. It's a popular duo.

What-it-does: viscosity controlling, emulsion stabilising | Irritancy: 0 | Comedogenicity: 1

A big molecule created from repeated subunits (a polymer of acrylic acid) that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula.  It usually has to be neutralized with a base (such as sodium hydroxide) for the thickening to occur and it creates viscous, clear gels that also feel nice and non-tacky on the skin. No wonder, it is a very popular and common ingredient. Typically used at 1% or less in most formulations.

Though its long name does not reveal it, this polymer molecule (big molecule from repeated subunits or monomers) is a relative to the super common, water-loving thickener, Carbomer. Both of them are big molecules that contain acrylic acid units, but Acrylates/C10-30 Alkyl Acrylate Crosspolymer also contains some other monomers that are hydrophobic, i.e. water-hating. 

This means that our molecule is part water- and part oil-loving, so it not only works as a thickener but also as an emulsion stabilizer. It is very common in gel-type formulas that also contain an oil-phase as well as in cleansers as it also works with most cleansing agents (unlike a lot of other thickeners). 

Also-called: lye | What-it-does: buffering

The unfancy name for it is lye. It’s a solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amounts to adjust the pH of the product and make it just right. 

For example, in case of AHA or BHA exfoliants, the right pH is super-duper important, and pH adjusters like sodium hydroxide are needed.  

BTW, lye is not something new. It was already used by ancient Egyptians to help oil and fat magically turn into something else. Can you guess what? Yes, it’s soap. It still often shows up in the ingredient list of soaps and other cleansers.

Sodium hydroxide in itself is a potent skin irritant, but once it's reacted (as it is usually in skin care products, like exfoliants) it is totally harmless.

What-it-does: buffering

Citric acid comes from citrus fruits and is an AHA. If these magic three letters don’t tell you anything, click here and read our detailed description on glycolic acid, the most famous AHA. 

So citric acid is an exfoliant, that can - just like other AHAs - gently lift off the dead skin cells of your skin and make it more smooth and fresh. 

There is also some research showing that citric acid with regular use (think three months and 20% concentration) can help sun-damaged skin, increase skin thickness and some nice hydrating things called glycosaminoglycans in the skin. 

But according to a comparative study done in 1995, citric acid has less skin improving magic properties than glycolic or lactic acid. Probably that’s why citric acid is usually not used as an exfoliant but more as a helper ingredient in small amounts to adjust the pH of a formulation. 

You may also want to take a look at...

what‑it‑does solvent
Normal (well kind of - it's purified and deionized) water. Usually the main solvent in cosmetic products. [more]
what‑it‑does solvent | moisturizer/humectant
A natural corn sugar derived glycol. It can be used to improve skin moisturization, as a solvent, to boost preservative efficacy or to influence the sensory properties of the end formula. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A real oldie but a goodie. Great natural moisturizer and skin-identical ingredient that plays an important role in skin hydration and general skin health. [more]
what‑it‑does antimicrobial/antibacterial | solvent | viscosity controlling
Alcohol with some additives to make it unconsumable. It is great solvent, penetration enhancer, creates cosmetically elegant, light formulas, great astringent, and antimicrobial. In large amounts, it can be very drying to the skin. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
An emollient ester with a rich and creamy but non-greasy skin feel. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A polymer that helps to thicken up products and stabilize oil-in-water emulsions. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative
Pretty much the current IT-preservative. It’s safe and gentle, and can be used up to 1% worldwide. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | solvent | viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 0
A common glycol that improves the freeze-thaw stability of products. It's also a solvent, humectant and to some extent a penetration enhancer. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant
A subtropical plant that thrives in flooded environments and is claimed to give excellent long-term moisturizing effects. Its hydrating ability is due to the chemical composition of the rhizomes that contain natural osmoprotective compounds such as 3-dimethylsulfoniopropionate (DMSP), potassium, starches, and sugars. [more]
what‑it‑does preservative | antimicrobial/antibacterial
A little helper ingredient that works as a preservative. It works against bacteria and some species of fungi and yeast. [more]
what‑it‑does skin-identical ingredient | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
It's the salt form of famous humectant and natural moisturizing factor, hyaluronic acid. It can bind huge amounts of water and it's pretty much the current IT-moisturizer. [more]
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
A multi-functional active ingredient that has both skin-protecting and anti-aging abilities as well as sebum-regulating and mattifying magic powers. [more]
what‑it‑does emollient
what‑it‑does soothing | moisturizer/humectant
irritancy, com. 0, 0
Pro-Vitamin B5 is a goodie that moisturises the skin, has anti-inflammatory, skin protecting and wound healing properties. [more]
what‑it‑does moisturizer/humectant | emollient
A handy multi-tasking ingredient that gives the skin a nice, soft feel and also boosts the effectiveness of other preservatives. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
irritancy, com. 0, 1
A handy white powder that magically converts a liquid into a nice gel formula. [more]
what‑it‑does viscosity controlling
A common helper ingredient that stabilizes emulsions and helps to thicken up products. [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
Lye - A solid white stuff that’s very alkaline and used in small amount to adjust the pH of the product.  [more]
what‑it‑does buffering
An AHA that comes from citrus fruits. It is usually used as a helper ingredient to adjust the pH of the formula. [more]